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Alaska Airlines pilot who flipped out in midair was afraid to report depression, his wife claims

The Alaska Airlines pilot who twice tried to down a packed passenger flight during a magic mushroom-fueled meltdown had refused to disclose information about his mental health because he was afraid he’d be grounded, a report said.

Joseph Emerson, 44, was deeply depressed before the bizarre Oct. 22 episode on a San Francisco-bound flight but told his wife he couldn’t afford to come clean to the airline, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“I was like, ‘Maybe you should talk to somebody,'” Emerson’s wife, Sarah Stretch, told the outlet.

“And then he expressed to me, ‘Sarah, I can’t be out of work,” she recalled her husband telling her. “‘We have to pay a mortgage. If I go do that, I have to go through all these other hoops… and we can’t afford to do that.'”

The veteran pilot had to be restrained on the flight between Everett, Washington, and San Francisco after trying to cut off the engines and lunging to open an emergency exit in midflight, authorities said.

Emerson was sitting in the cockpit of the Alaska Airlines flight on Horizons Air as a passenger — a courtesy extended to off-duty pilots when they travel on their airlines.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses and regulates pilot conduct in the US, allows them to self-report any mental health or physical issues – but pulls them from the cockpit when they do.

The pilots are then required to undergo extensive screening before they’re cleared to fly again, which experts say serves as a deterrent for them to be upfront about any issues they may be dealing with.

“It’s not an easy process for them to get back into the cockpit,” Dr. Brent Blue, a senior aviation medical examiner who works with pilots told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“They will have to go through these evaluations by a psychiatrist and a neuropsychologist to do that,” he said. “This is a pilot who basically is being responsible saying, ‘I am not up to flying because of my grief or whatever.”

Pilots can apply for short-term, and after six months, long-term disability — but the pay during leave is typically around 50% of their salary, although the rate varies by airline.

Stretch said her husband had struggled emotionally since the death of a close friend — who served as the best man at the couple’s wedding — more than five years ago, and was returning from a trip with mutual friends when he lapsed into bizarre behavior on the flight.

According to a 2016 study by the National Library of Medicine, 12.6% of commercial airline pilots reported some level of depression, and more than 4% reported suicidal thoughts.

This article originally appeared on the New York Post.

Photo: POOL

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